The Power of Gratitude

“Live in gratitude: To be a saint is to be fueled by gratitude, nothing more and nothing less… Holiness is gratitude.”

-Ronald Rolheiser

When I read this quote the other day, it challenged me deeply. A heart of gratitude does not come naturally to me. It’s so easy for me to see all that is wrong and broken in the world and in my own life. However, in this season God has been inviting me to focus on all that is good. I think that during this challenging season in the world, gratitude is especially vital. Gratitude is a powerful antidote for discouragement, disappointment, self pity, and any other scheme of the enemy.

I want to share some ways that God has been inviting me into deeper gratitude. I hope that these ideas might be an encouragement to you if you find yourself in a similar place.

Accepting Difficulty: I think that as humans, we tend to approach life with a lot of idealism and expectation. In doing so, we often forget the simple truth that sometimes life is just plain hard. In his famous book “The Road Less Traveled”, M. Scott Peck opens with the following line:

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we see it, we transcend it.”

We often approach life expecting it to be heaven on earth. But it just isn’t. We live in a fallen world and all is not as it should be. Pandemics and natural disasters happen. Our bodies get sick and let us down. We experience the pain of broken relationships. Our callings and vocations sometimes lack the fulfillment and tangible results that we desire.

There’s so much freedom in simply accepting this. Moreover, this perspective inspires gratitude. When we stop viewing the good things in life as rights that we’re entitled to, we begin to see good things as they actually are. Unmerited favor. Gracious gifts from a loving Father.

A daily gratitude practice: The past few years I’ve experimented with making gratitude a daily habit. Sometimes gratitude bursts out of our hearts, completely unprompted. But more often I’ve found it to be a discipline that grows through daily practice. Our actions shape the people we become. Just like someone becomes a runner by running each day, we become grateful people by practicing daily gratitude.

For me this means making a list in my journal each night before bed. I title my list “evidences of grace”. Then I write down simple ways that I experienced God’s grace throughout the day. This could be something profound and beautiful like a sunset on my drive home or something simple like a moment of laughter with my students over Zoom. I love this practice because it changes my attitude during the day. As I discover God’s gifts throughout the day, I’ll write them down on a note in my phone so that I’ll remember to add them to my list at night. This centers my heart in a place of deeper gratitude throughout the day.

Regular worship: Recently I was struck by how much of Christian worship music is centered on our human feelings and our problems. While I think that this music definitely has a time and a place, I’ve noticed that sometimes it can put me in a place of self-absorption. Lately God has been challenging me to take some time each day to worship Him with songs of adoration and gratitude. These songs center my heart on God’s character and who He is rather than on myself. This naturally moves my heart to a posture of gratitude rather than entitlement.

The gift of memory: I’m a very future-oriented person and don’t spend a lot of time focusing on memories. However, I’ve been wondering if God might want to use our memories during this season. I was recently listening to a sermon by John Mark Comer where he suggested writing down the ten best moments of your life. He then said to go back to each of those memories in your mind and spend some time intentionally thanking God. I tried this idea and found it to be very joyful. I wonder if during this challenging season in the world, we may need to draw strength from joyful memories from the past.

Allowing loss to inspire gratitude: It seems that basically everyone is experiencing some form of loss right now. The other day my mom shared with me a powerful perspective on loss. When we find ourselves missing something, we can have renewed gratitude for that thing we’ve lost.

For example, as I currently teach my students over Zoom, I feel so much more grateful for the 5 years that I taught them in person. And I know that I will be so much more grateful for that gift when we are back in the classroom again. Additionally, as we all anticipate the holidays looking different this year due to covid, we can be grateful for previous holidays. And I know that we will treasure our relationships with family even more after this season.

Thanking others: This idea is simple, but so powerful. Lately I’ve tried to notice the specific ways that people bless me. And instead of just noticing those blessings, God’s been challenging me to actually say thank you. It’s so easy to take for granted the people we spend time with on a daily basis. We can so easily miss the gift of their support, kindness, and friendship. Lately. I’ve really enjoyed writing old fashioned thank you notes and sending them in the mail. But whatever the means, I think there’s something so powerful in saying thank you to the people we love.

I’d love to hear from you! How has God been teaching you to practice gratitude and find joy during this season? I’m way in process with this one and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Power of Remembrance

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all of your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” -Psalm 77:11

One of the greatest themes that I’ve noticed in the Bible is the importance of remembrance. All throughout the Scriptures, God calls His people to remember His goodness.

In the book of Leviticus, God appointed weekly and yearly rhythms of remembrance for the people of Israel. For example, the Sabbath was a weekly rhythm to remember how God rested on the seventh day. The Passover was a yearly rhythm to remember how God delivered the Israelites from Egypt.

Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, the Israelites regularly created altars of remembrance to commemorate God’s miraculous works. For example, in Joshua 4, they stacked 12 stones in remembrance of how God miraculously parted the Jordan river and let them cross on dry land.

All throughout the Psalms, David and other writers meditated on the works and wonders of God. They called the reader to remember God’s past faithfulness and dwell on His goodness.

Most poignantly, at the Last Supper, Jesus invited His followers to take the bread and the cup in remembrance of Him.

It’s clear that God calls His followers to be a people marked by remembrance.

There is so much power in remembering God’s goodness.

And there is so much danger in forgetting.

The Israelites repeatedly forgot the Lord and His goodness to them. They cycled through seasons of faithful remembrance and seasons of forgetfulness. When they forgot God, they became captives to idolatry and oppression.

“They did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by His law. They forgot what He had done, and the wonders He had shown them. They did not remember His power— the day He redeemed them from the oppressor.”

-Psalm 78: 10, 11, and 42 

Oh, how I see my own heart reflected in the story of Israel. I am so quick to forget all that God has done for me. And forgetting God’s goodness makes me vulnerable to the schemes of the Enemy.

I’ve noticed that I’m most vulnerable to anxiety when I focus my attention on disappointment and pain. When I dwell on all that seems wrong in my life, the Enemy attacks me with doubt, self-pity, and fear.

However, the opposite happens when I dwell on God’s goodness in my life. I notice the ways that He has been guiding and sustaining my life since the day I was born. I remember the difficult seasons He has carried me through and the growth that He done in my heart. I am struck by the deep and meaningful relationships He has provided in different seasons of my life. And most of all, I remember the way He has unconditionally loved me and forgiven my sins.

Now this doesn’t mean that I ignore the pain and disappointments in my life. However, I don’t dwell in them alone. Instead, I invite God’s interpretation of the painful events I experience. I ask Him to show me the ways that He is acting redemptively in my life, bringing good out of what the Enemy intended for evil.

I want to share several practices that help me to dwell on God’s goodness.

Daily Gratitude: I know I wrote about this in an earlier post, but it’s worth mentioning again. Gratitude is a powerful weapon against anxiety and self pity. At the close of each day,  I like to take inventory of the day and ask God to reveal His goodness and grace to me. This can include very small moments like the grace to handle a difficult conversation, energy when I felt weak, or the beautiful, misty morning as I drove to work. Looking for God’s fingerprints in the small things enables me to see the larger patterns of His goodness in my life.

Reading old journals: Every year or so, I read back through my journals. Each time I am struck by the ways that God has been so faithful in my life. I remember times when I felt lost and afraid, but God was actually at work in ways that I couldn’t see at the time. I am struck by how God repeatedly used painful situations to draw me into deeper intimacy with Him. Reflecting on old journals gives me fresh perspective on current circumstances and renews my hope for the future.

Writing a psalm: A mentor of mine gave me this idea. She encouraged me to take Psalm 136 and re-write it about my own life, following each example of God’s goodness with the phrase “His love endures forever.” My psalm started as follows:

God knit me together in my mother’s womb.

His love endures forever.

God blessed me with dear parents who love and serve Him.

His love endures forever…

I found that writing out chronological acts of God’s goodness helped me to better see His hand in my life.

Creating my own altar of remembrance: This is another idea from the same mentor. She suggested drawing my own altar of remembrance (like the Israelite people did in Joshua 4). In each stone, I wrote a specific way that God has been faithful in my life. I’ve found this visual to be a powerful reminder of the way God’s faithfulness builds upon itself in my life.

Especially in dark seasons, I notice my human tendency to focus on all that seems wrong in my life. However, I know that I don’t need to stay stuck there.

Even in the most challenging times, God invites me to re-frame my perspective.

He invites me to remember who He is and what He has done.

I don’t want to ever forget.